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UN-backed Minamata Convention on Mercury comes into effect

UN-backed Minamata Convention on Mercury comes into effect

The UN-backed Minamata Convention on Mercury came into effect on August 16, 2017. This was revealed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNE). The treaty seeks to protect millions of children and infants from possible neurological and health damage.

With the coming into effect of Minamata Convention, the Governments that are party to the Convention are legally bound to take a range of measures to protect human health and the environment by addressing mercury throughout its lifecycle.

What is Minamata Convention?

The Minamata Convention commits Governments to take specific measures, which include banning new mercury mines, phasing-out existing ones, regulating artisanal and small-scale gold mining, and reducing emissions and mercury use. Since the element is indestructible, the Convention also stipulates conditions for interim storage and disposal of mercury waste.

The Convention – the first new global convention related to the environment and health in close to a decade – entered into force 90 days after the 50th party ratified it on May 18, 2017. There are now 74 parties to the Convention and 128 countries have signed it.

Why the Convention is named so?

The Convention takes its name from the most severe mercury poisoning disaster in history. In 1956, local villages suffered convulsions, psychosis, loss of consciousness and coma from eating the fish in Minamata Bay, Japan, in which industrial wastewaters had been dumped since the 1930s. Thousands of people were certified as having directly suffered from mercury poisoning, now known as Minamata disease.

Emissions of Mercury

According to UNEP, up to 8,900 metric tonnes of mercury are emitted each year. It can be released naturally through the weathering of mercury-containing rocks, forest fires and volcanic eruptions, but significant emissions also come from human processes, particularly coal burning and artisanal and small-scale gold mining. Mining alone exposes up to 15 million workers in 70 different countries to mercury poisoning, including child labourers.

Other man-made sources of mercury pollution include the production of chlorine and some plastics, waste incineration and use of mercury in laboratories, pharmaceuticals, preservatives, paints and jewelry.

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